World University Rankings 2016-2017: QS Vs Times Higher Education

World University Rankings 2016-2017: QS Vs Times Higher Education

Laura Bridgestock

Updated January 16, 2020 Updated January 16

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017, released today, sees the University of Oxford take the number one spot – pushing out California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which had led the list for the previous five years.

This is the latest installation in a cluster of rankings launched in recent weeks – following the Shanghai Ranking, QS World University Rankings®, and US News. Among the growing number of international rankings, QS and THE are perhaps closest, in their approach to assessing universities and presentation of results. Yet even these two rankings diverge significantly, due to differences in the indicators used, and the weightings applied when calculating overall scores.

So, how do the latest editions of the QS and Times Higher Education rankings compare?

At a glance:

-          Massachusetts Institute of Technology remains top in QS (for fifth consecutive year).

-          University of Oxford leads THE, pushing former table-topper Caltech into second.

-          High level of correlation between the two lists – 0.80 overall, and 0.71 in the top 100.

-          Both see generally downwards movement for UK and other European countries this year.

-          Asian universities rising in both, but still better-represented in QS.

-          QS results generally more stable year on year.

While there is a large degree of correlation between the two lists, there are also significant differences, both in terms of the positions accorded, and universities that are included or omitted. Notable examples include the University of Buenos Aires, Trinity College Dublin, University of Malaya, Sciences Po, Kazakh National University, Beijing Normal University and Grenoble Alpes University, which all appear in the QS ranking but not THE. In some cases, such as Trinity College Dublin, this appears to be due to a data submission error, with the institution likely to be reinstated next year.

Overall, the QS results are more stable year on year. The average change in position within the top 100 is 4.2 in QS, compared to 7.6 in this year’s THE. For the top 200, QS’s average shift is 6.6 places, and THE’s 12.6.

Top 10 Universities - QS and Times Higher Education

In addition to Oxford’s triumph over Caltech, the Times Higher Education top 10 also sees the addition of the University of California, Berkeley, which climbs from 13th to =10th. Meanwhile this year’s QS ranking saw Stanford climb from =3rd to 2nd, switching places with Harvard, while Cambridge fell from =3rd to 4th. Imperial College London and ETH Zurich also exchanged positions.

While the two sets of top-10 institutions overlap to a large extent, there are several divergences. UCL is absent from THE’s top 10 (now 15th, down one from last year). And while Princeton is only one place outside the QS top 10, Berkeley presents an example of a greater disparity between the two rankings, not appearing until 28th.

Top 100 Universities - Most-Represented Countries

Despite Oxford’s success in becoming the first UK institution to lead the Times Higher Education ranking, overall both QS and THE have seen downwards movement for UK universities this year. There are now only 12 UK representatives in THE’s top 100, down from 16 last year, and UK institutions are down by an average of nine places. Although there are still 18 UK entries in the QS top 100, most either lost ground or stayed static this year.

Germany remains the third most-represented country at the top level of the Times Higher Education ranking, followed by the Netherlands, and in general the methodology applied by THE tends to produce stronger results for continental European institutions. Switzerland has been a notable exception to this trend, though this year improves its representation in THE’s list; ETH Zurich and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are now joined in the top 100 by the University of Basel, with the University of Zurich hovering just six places outside.

Canada loses one of its top-100 entries in the new Times Higher Education ranking, with McMaster University falling from =94th to =113th. However, it comes close to being replaced by the University of Montréal, which has climbed 10 places to 103rd, closely followed by the University of Alberta, which leaps 30 positions to rank 107th.

Top Universities in Asia - QS and Times Higher Education

While the QS ranking has so far featured leading Asian universities more prominently than Times Higher Education, this year sees the latter go some way towards catching up in its representation of the region. China’s two leading entries – Peking University and Tsinghua University – have climbed from 42nd to 29th and from =47th to 35th respectively, and the top nine Chinese universities have all improved their rankings.

Hong Kong now has three top-100 universities in the Times Higher Education ranking – one more than last year – with the Chinese University of Hong Kong climbing 62 places to 76th, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 10 places to 49th, and the University of Hong Kong one place to =43rd.

Meanwhile South Korea has doubled its presence in the Times Higher Education top 100 compared to last year, with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) making a dramatic leap of 59 positions to rank =89th, joining Seoul National University (=72nd, up 13 places). Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) is not far behind, climbing 12 positions to =104th.

However, Asian institutions remain more prominent in the QS ranking. China, for instance, has seven institutions in the QS top 200, compared to four in THE. Meanwhile, Asia’s leading representative in both rankings – the National University of Singapore (NUS) – has climbed two places to 24th in the Times Higher Education ranking, its highest ever position. Yet, in keeping with the wider regional general trend, it has already reached 12th in the QS ranking, and remains stable there this year.

Though the Times Higher Education list now covers more universities – 978, compared to QS's 916 – the QS ranking remains more diverse. There are 57 countries featured in the QS top 500, compared to 43 in the same range of the THE list, and 45 in the latest Shanghai Ranking.

Got a question about the differences between the QS and Times Higher Education rankings, or an opinion to share about their approaches to assessing universities? Have your say in the comments below.

This article was originally published in September 2016 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

The former editor of, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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